Rocket Lab set to try its first US-based launch again

ARS Technica - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 07:59
A previous launch of the Electron from New Zealand.

Enlarge / A previous launch of the Electron from New Zealand. (credit: Rocket Lab)

On Tuesday, Rocket Lab will try again to send its first payloads to orbit from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) in Virginia. With clear skies and a launch window that opens after sunset, the launch has the potential to be visible on most of the Eastern Seaboard and as far west as Ohio.

While Rocket Lab's Electron launch vehicle has a solid track record of launches from New Zealand, the use of Virginia would represent a big step forward for both the company and MARS itself. Having a US-based launch site allows the company to reach trajectories that aren't available from New Zealand and opens up opportunities for US government work, some of which requires launches from within the country.

For MARS, which is based at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Rocket Lab would represent its second major commercial customer. NASA operates small sounding rockets from the site, and Orbital ATK has flown resupply missions to the International Space Station from there. But the Electron is a small launch vehicle that can allow a rapid cadence of launches and could boost the traffic from MARS considerably. Perhaps more significantly, Rocket Lab is using Wallops for the development of its larger reusable Neutron rocket, which would both launch and land at MARS.

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Categories: Tech News

The Doomsday Clock Is Now the Closest It's Ever Been to Armageddon

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 07:56

The Doomsday Clock, a metaphorical measure of how close humanity is to ultimate destruction, is now set at 90 seconds to midnight. This is the closest the clock has ever been set to Armageddon in its 76 year history.

The Doomsday Clock is kept by a group of scientists and experts called The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. It includes experts on international relations, as well as scientists who study nuclear weapons, climate, and disease. For the past two years, scientists have kept the clock at 100 seconds to midnight.

Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, explained that the clock’s keepers had kept the clock so close to midnight for so long over fears that Russia might invade Ukraine and raise nuclear tensions. “In February 2022, weeks after our announcement, our fears were born out,” Bronson said during the presentation that set the clock at 90 seconds to midnight. “Russia's thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons remind the world that escalation of the conflict by accident, intention, or miscalculation is a terrible risk. The possibilities that the conflict could spin out of anyone’s control remains high.”

According to Bronson, the decision to move the clock forward 10 seconds was “largely, but not exclusively, because of the mounting dangers of the war in Ukraine.” 

To say tensions are high is an understatement. Since it escalated its invasion in 2022, Russia has repeatedly threatened nuclear war with NATO. Former Russian president and current deputy chairman of the Kremlin’s Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev recently warned the world that a loss of Ukraine for Russia might mean nuclear war. Moscow has deployed new hypersonic nuclear-capable missiles, built a new super torpedo powered by a nuclear engine, and put its nuclear forces on high alert.

Later this year, members of the Group of Seven (G7), will meet in Hiroshima. It’s a symbolic meeting because the Japanese city is one of the only places in the world to feel the devastating effects of nuclear war. The G7 was once the G8, but Russia was suspended from the group after its annexation of Crimea in 2014. 

Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, invoked the memory of Hiroshima in her statement about the Doomsday Clock. “We have had enough of the Doomsday Clock warnings being followed by inaction,” she told Motherboard in a statement. “The leaders of the G7, all of whom either command nuclear arsenals or support the use of nuclear weapons, must seize the moment of their meeting in the first city to have been devastated by an atomic bomb at huge human cost to tell us how they will work with Russia and China to fulfill the commitment to disarm they have all made.”

Categories: Tech News

European launch chief insists there be no competition with Ariane rockets

ARS Technica - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 07:47
A pathfinder version of the Ariane 6 rocket is seen at launch facilities in Kourou, French Guiana.

Enlarge / A pathfinder version of the Ariane 6 rocket is seen at launch facilities in Kourou, French Guiana. (credit: European Space Agency)

The development of a commercial launch industry in Europe lags behind the United States by about 10 or 15 years, but there are now about a dozen startups in Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, and France building small rockets sometimes referred to as "microlaunchers."

The European Space Agency and several of these nations have provided a modicum of support to these companies, often in the form of launch contracts worth a few million dollars. But so far, European space institutions have stopped short of assisting these commercial companies more substantially, as NASA did with the commercial cargo and crew programs for the International Space Station.

One reason for this is the entrenched launch monopoly in Europe, Arianespace. Owned by various aerospace suppliers across Europe, the Paris-based launch company markets and operates a small launcher in the form of the Vega C rocket and heavy-lift rockets in the form of the soon-to-be retired Ariane 5 and forthcoming Ariane 6 rocket.

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Google's Sundar Pichai tells underlings that exec bonuses will be clipped

The Register - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 07:26
Staff in Q&A session yesterday to discuss 12,000 job cuts

Google's top brass told employees at a town hall meeting that executive bonuses will be cut this year as upper management addressed wide-ranging questions from staff following confirmation of extensive job cuts.…

Categories: Tech News

The world’s farms are hooked on phosphorus, and that’s a problem

ARS Technica - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 07:19
The world’s farms are hooked on phosphorus, and that’s a problem

Enlarge (credit: Brian Brown/Getty Images)

Disrupting Earth’s chemical cycles brings trouble. But planet-warming carbon dioxide isn’t the only element whose cycle we’ve turned wonky—we’ve got a phosphorus problem too. And it’s a big one, because we depend on this element to grow the world’s crops. “I don't know if it would be possible to have a full world without any mineral phosphorus fertilizer,” says Joséphine Demay, a PhD student at INRAE, France’s National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment.

Since the 1800s, agriculturalists have known that elemental phosphorus is a crucial fertilizer. Nations quickly began mining caches of “phosphate rock,” minerals rich in the element. By the middle of the 20th century, companies had industrialized chemical processes to turn it into a form suitable for supercharging crops, hardening them against disease, and making them able to support more people and livestock. That approach worked remarkably well: The post-World War II “Green Revolution” fed countless people thanks to fertilizers and pesticides. But sometimes there’s too much of a good thing.

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Categories: Tech News

Instagram Has a White Nationalist ‘Groyper’ Problem

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 06:59

White Christian nationalist “groypers” are thriving on Instagram, posting memes with racist, anti-semitic, and homophobic tropes while others pose as clean-cut conservatives to lure in new, college-aged recruits. 

In a report shared exclusively with VICE News, Media Matters identified 40 active accounts linked to known “groypers,” the name for the very online acolytes of 24-year-old white nationalist livestreamer Nicholas Fuentes and his organization “America First.” Although Fuentes has been suspended from most mainstream social media platforms, including Instagram, since about 2019, his supporters continue to spread his video clips and posts. Some of those accounts belong to well-known far-right influencers and have thousands of followers. Other accounts put out groyper memes—a derivative of the Pepe the Frog meme that was co-opted by the so-called “alt-right”—while communicating racist, anti-semitic or homophobic tropes.

The groyper movement is known for weaponizing irony and euphemism to push out hateful content, which allows them to claim they were “just joking” if someone thinks they’ve gone too far. One post, for example, asks “How White Are You?” accompanied by images of facial features, and a scoring system. Others traffic in anti-semitic conspiracy theories by making covert references to the “money lenders” in “temples.” Another explicitly homophobic post shows pictures of people holding up Pride flags at a recent protest against a drag show in Denton, Texas, and calls them “people who defend pedophiles.” 

The groypers’ presence on Instagram seems to violate content policies articulated by its parent company Meta, which explicitly prohibits “praise, support, and representation of white nationalist and white separatism” on its platforms. 

META did not immediately respond for comment, but one of the biggest challenges faced by content moderators has been far-right extremist groups' resilience and abilities to develop a shared, coded language which they use to signpost their hateful views while also skirting policies banning hate speech. 

Many of the larger Instagram accounts Media Matters identified as belonging to known groypers appear to cultivate clean “optics” on that particular platform, meaning they often steer clear of overt anti-semitism or racism in favor of euphemisms and dog whistles. It’s a strategy used by many in the groyper movement: By sanitizing their public image, they’re able to gain access to mainstream conservative circles and attract new supporters. 

For example, the Instagram account of 20-year-old groyper Kai Schwemmer, who has 12,000 followers and goes by “Kai Clips,” shows him posing in a suit and tie following conservative student events, working out, or standing in front of banners with phrases like “defend traditional values.” Sometimes he appears wearing a blue baseball cap emblazoned with the slogan “America First,” a quiet signposting of his affiliation with the groyper movement. (Schwemmer did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment). 

On his website, he describes himself as a “Gen Z conservative from Utah,” as well as a “mormon, a strong conservative, and an avid bodybuilder. “Kai stands for freedom, for traditional values and he promotes an energetic, youthful conservatism; he stands against mass immigration and cultural decay,” his website states. 

But on other fringe platforms, such as Telegram or Gab, accounts appearing to belong to Schwemmer are more explicit with their views, reposting homophobic memes and cartoons referencing Hitler, for example. On Sunday, an account under the same name livestreamed playing the video game Red Dead Redemption 2, where the user hunted female characters in the game and gunned them down. The stream was posted with the title “Killing 100 Women in Under 10 Min in RDR2.” Viewers left comments celebrating him “murdering bitches.” “This challenge gives me a newfound respect for mass shooters,” another replied. 

While some groyper influencers distance themselves from the movement on Instagram, dozens of smaller, anonymous meme accounts explicitly identify themselves as groypers. Some of those accounts post clips from broadcasts on, the streaming platform that Fuentes founded in 2021 and touted as being “anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-Black, antisemitic.” 

Many others have used images of rapper Ye or clips from his various anti-semitic outbursts, as a vehicle to promote hate against Jews. Fuentes is working as communications manager on Ye’s 2024 presidential campaign, and increasingly, “#Ye24” has also become a calling card for online groypers. 

Recently, Fuentes recently found himself in the national spotlight after he formed an alliance with disgraced rapper Ye over their shared anti-semitic views. Last month, Fuentes and Ye went on Alex Jones’ Infowars for an hours-long interview, in which the rapper declared “I see good things about Hitler” and complained about people “dissing the Nazis all the time.” 

Despite newly unprecedented levels of scrutiny on Fuentes and his network, Instagram is allowing a profile claiming to be the official account of to maintain a presence on their platform. That account also advertises merch for, including plushies featuring its logo, ugly Christmas sweaters, and caps. 

Fuentes emerged on the far-right scene back in 2017, when he landed his own show with Right Side Broadcasting Network, a new pro-Trump TV outlet at the time, as a freshman at Boston University, and quickly made a name for himself for his unfiltered, bigoted tirades. He attended the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville later that year. 

In 2019, he set his sights on pushing white nationalism into the political mainstream, and began aggressively recruiting college students, who became known as groypers, to his mission.

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Categories: Tech News

Gavin Newsom Says the Second Amendment ‘Is Becoming a Suicide Pact’ After Another Mass Shooting

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 06:35

California Gov. Gavin Newsom blasted the country’s failure to address gun violence on Monday, saying “the Second Amendment’s becoming a suicide pact.” Moments later he learned about yet another mass killing in his state, the third in eight days. 

California’s latest mass shooting happened on Monday afternoon, when seven people were shot dead by a 62-year-old man at two mushroom farms in Half Moon Bay, 30 miles south of San Francisco.

Newsom’s comments, in which he called for the banning of high capacity magazines, came hours after a 72-year-old gunman wielding a customized rifle with a high capacity magazine killed 11 people in a dance studio in Monterey Park. Days earlier, on Jan. 16, a teenage mother and her baby were among six people killed in a shooting at a home in California’s Central Valley.

Newsom tweeted on Monday that he was in the hospital visiting victims of the Monterey Park shooting when he was told about the Half Moon Bay incident. 

“At the hospital meeting with victims of a mass shooting when I get pulled away to be briefed about another shooting. This time in Half Moon Bay,” Newsom tweeted. “Tragedy upon tragedy.”

Speaking to CBS on Monday, in an interview broadcast after the Half Moon Bay shooting took place, Newsom addressed the spate of mass shootings in the U.S. in the first month of 2023 and lamented that nothing is being done to advance gun control laws.

“Nothing about this is surprising. Everything about this is infuriating,” he said. “The Second Amendment is becoming a suicide pact.” 

When CBS’ host Norah O’Donnell pushed back, saying there were a lot of legal gun owners in the U.S., Newsom responded:  “I have no ideological opposition to someone who is reasonably and responsibly owning firearms and getting background checks and being trained.”

Earlier in the day, Newsom attacked TV networks that “sell fear” about crime and immigration, singling out Fox News for the station’s typical response to mass shootings. 

“Fox is a disgrace what they say, what these people say every single night,” Newsom said. “There’s xenophobia, they’re racial priming, what they have done to perpetuate crime and violence in this country, by scapegoating, and by doing not a damn thing about gun safety, not a damn thing for decades.”

Newsom then outlined how the network’s hosts have spent more than a decade normalizing mass killings by resisting calls for stricter gun control laws.

“It’s ‘not the right time, not the right time, not the right time.' Rinse, repeat. Not the right time, Sandy Hook, not the right time, rinse, repeat. Uvalde. Remember Uvalde? Remember? Rinse, repeat. You don’t remember the Borderline here, 13 people, look that one up. Rinse, repeat. Not a damn thing they do. And we know it. And we allow them to get away with that.”

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Categories: Tech News

WFH can get you 40% salary boost in UK and US tech jobs

The Register - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 06:23
Web developer is the most likely role to be offered the arrangement

A web developer is the tech role most likely to be offered to work from home and also gets 39 percent more pay for the arrangement than other jobs, according to research.…

Categories: Tech News

Made-Up GOTY Categories, Real Winners

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 06:00

It’s 2023, which means we’re finally doing the Last Podcast of 2022! Last year, we asked listeners for Game of the Year Categories and y’all responded in droves…but our top ten list podcast went a little long. (C’mon, that never happens!) Learn which games we went goblin mode for, our favorite under 10 hours, what everyone’s favorite little guy in the margins of Pentiment was, the games we swear we’ll get back to in 2023 (but won’t), and much more!

You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher. If you're using something else, this RSS link should let you add the podcast to whatever platform you'd like. If you'd like to directly download the podcast, click here. Please take a moment and review the podcast, especially on Apple Podcasts. It really helps.

Interaction with you is a big part of this podcast, so make sure to send any questions you have for us to with the header "Questions." (Without the quotes!) We can't guarantee we'll answer all of your questions, but rest assured, we'll be taking a look at them.

Have thoughts? Swing by the Waypoint forums to share them!

Categories: Tech News

Future Asteroid That Threatens Earth May Be Near-Indestructible, Scientists Warn

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 06:00

A future asteroid that threatens Earth may be near-indestructible, scientists concluded in a new study that offered some "aggressive" solutions for what to do if we ever face one.

Scientists who studied tiny specks of dust recovered from a potentially hazardous asteroid  discovered that “rubble-pile” asteroids, which are loose conglomerations of smaller space rocks, are much more common and robust than previously assumed, a finding that suggests it might take nuclear devices to push them off course from Earth, should the need arise.

In 2010, Japan’s Hayabusa mission stunned the world by becoming the first spacecraft to successfully deliver pristine samples from an asteroid back to Earth. The trailblazing mission collected about 1,500 grains of dust from the surface of Itokawa, a rubble pile asteroid about the same size as the Eiffel Tower that is considered potentially hazardous because its path through space crosses Earth’s orbit.

Now, scientists led by Fred Jourdan, the director of the Western Australian Argon Isotope Facility at Curtin University, have used Itokawa’s dust particles to show that the asteroid may have formed over 4.2 billion years ago from the shattered remains of a “monolithic asteroid,” a type of space rock that is much denser than rubble piles.

This surprisingly long lifespan indicates that rubble pile asteroids are far tougher than previously assumed, a finding that may necessitate the use of “more aggressive approaches (e.g., nuclear blast deflection)” to knock them off course in the event of a possible collision, according to a study published on Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Monolithic-type asteroids that are more than a kilometer in diameter have been predicted to have a lifespan of a few 100 million years,” Jourdan and his colleagues said in the study. “However, the durability of rubble pile asteroids is currently not known.”

“This study shows that the formation age of the rubble pile Itokawa asteroid is older than 4.2 billion years,” they added. “Our results suggest that rubble piles are probably more abundant in the asteroid belt than previously thought and provide constraints to help develop mitigation strategies to prevent asteroid collisions with Earth.”

Jourdan and his colleagues reached this conclusion after examining three dust particles from Itokawa, each of which measures about 150 microns—about the same size as a grain of table salt. The team zoomed in on the tiny grains with spectroscopic instruments and used dating techniques to show that Itokawa has survived catastrophic collisions for almost the entire history of the solar system.

It seems counterintuitive that rubble piles, which are half-empty collections of loose boulders, would be so much tougher than hefty monolithic asteroids. However, a rubble pile asteroid is akin to a “giant space cushion,” Jourdan said in a statement, allowing these rocks to take punch after punch without accruing much damage.

As a result, rubble piles are probably a lot more common than expected—especially small asteroids under 600 feet—raising the odds that one might crash into Earth in the future. If we were to detect one of these rocks before it hit, we could potentially push it off course by crashing an impactor into it, though we might need to break out the big guns to do it.

Porous asteroids like Itokawa ”are harder to deflect by kinetic impact since porosity decreases the efficiency of the transfer of momentum,” the team noted in the study. “Here, we showed that small rubble pile asteroids can survive billions of years against the ambient bombardment in the inner solar system due to their resistance to collisions and fragmentations.”

“Therefore, more aggressive approaches (e.g., nuclear blast deflection) might have a higher chance of success against rubble pile asteroids,” the researchers said. This approach would involve setting off a nuclear blast near the asteroid and using the shockwave to redirect its trajectory.

The team noted that NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, which intentionally crashed into a rubble pile asteroid last year, will help scientists to understand how to protect humanity from these rocks. In addition to securing a safe future for our civilization, Hayabusa’s samples continue to reveal amazing new details about the evolution of Earth, and the solar system.

“Even though most particles recovered from Itokawa’s surface regolith have a diameter significantly smaller than 100 microns, they provide an invaluable means to study early solar system processes such as the formation of Earth’s oceans and the formation, evolution, and longevity of rubble pile asteroids,” the team noted in the study.

Moreover, Hayabusa’s successor, Hayabusa 2, also returned samples from a rubble pile asteroid in 2020, and NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is currently headed back to our planet with its own asteroid haul. These precious deliveries from outer space will continue to expand our understanding of our cosmic past, and help us to preserve our future in a tumultuous universe.

Categories: Tech News

How Nextdoor Put Neighbors In a Housing Policy 'Cage Match'

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 06:00

Jim Roberts, a 65-year-old retired golf professional, first heard about the neighborhood-based social media network Nextdoor in early 2013, when his wife created a group for their neighborhood of West Hills in Bend, Oregon. Initially, the site seemed like a digital bulletin board, a place where people could post about things they were giving away, look for lost dogs, or recommend an electrician in order to to “cultivate a kinder world where everyone has a neighborhood they can rely on,” as Nextdoor’s website boasts. About six weeks after the group was created, people in the community who used Nextdoor helped track down an elderly man with dementia who had wandered from his house.

But it didn’t take long for the posts to gradually stray from helpful, neighborly FYIs to nitpicky complaints about garbage and parking issues. “Fairly early on, you started to see kind of classic NIMBY complaints about things,” Roberts said, using the acronym for not in my backyard, a term that has become associated with anti-housing activists, narrowly, and people who act as if living in a community gives them veto power over anything anyone might do there, broadly.

Gradually, the “classic NIMBY complaints,” as Roberts put it, became more overt, direct, and focused on  specific housing projects or land-use changes. Bend, like much of the country, is in the midst of a housing crisis. Employers say they cannot find people to hire because lower-to-middle income workers cannot afford to live there. Roberts advocates for new housing because he thinks this affordability crisis is eroding the city’s vitality and is unfair to people who want to work and live there but cannot.

But many people in Bend do not agree with Roberts. Some of them oppose measures to allow developers to build denser housing—such as eliminating mandatory parking minimums for new housing developments—or build in undeveloped areas.

“Old Bend Neighbors—we need to act FAST to save the parking in our neighborhood,” one such post said, regarding a city council meeting to discuss parking requirements.

 And when Roberts sees a post like that on Nextdoor, he argues.

“I'm basically the attack dog,” Roberts says, “Because, you know, I try and be polite at first. But if people just kind of show their colors, then it's all guns blazing sort of thing.”

Homeless encampment Bend ORBend is known for year-round outdoor activities, lots of local breweries, the last Blockbuster video rental store, and a housing crisis. Credit: George Rose / Contributor via Getty

Bend is not alone; Nextdoor has become the go-to ground on which neighborhoods fight increasingly pitched battles over housing, itself one of the greatest sources of intractable local political conflict in the country. In communities across the country—big and small, Democratic and Republican—neighbors are pitted against neighbors in what one housing activist described as a kind of permanent online cage match.

One of the people Roberts confronts online is Roberta Silverman, the land-use chair for the Southern Crossing Neighborhood Association and chair of Save Bend Green Space, a non-profit trying to stop a wilderness area adjacent to a suburban-style development from itself becoming developed. Silverman, who agreed to answer questions via email for this article, described herself as a “60+ retired public relations consultant.” She split time between Bend and Los Angeles between 2016 and 2020, and has lived there permanently since then. She initially joined Nextdoor for the same reason most people do—“to find recommended resources such as plumbers, electricians, cleaning services, etc.” But it quickly became obvious to her how useful Nextdoor is for political organizing around housing issues. She uses Nextdoor to “keep neighbors informed about proposed developments and other urgent issues” and regularly posts on Nextdoor to tell people about upcoming public meetings and deadlines to submit comments on proposed projects.

The housing debate on Nextdoor is not just about arguing in an online vacuum. The arguments are, themselves, a form of online organizing. Local voices build constituencies and support through the platform, which they then leverage into political power by filing hundreds of comments with city councils, showing up to hearings, and filing lawsuits. As a result, Nextdoor has quietly become one of the most consequential and important—but generally overlooked—social media sites.

For this article, Motherboard interviewed housing activists—ones both for and against new housing, zoning, and development proposals—in five cities around the country to discuss the role Nextdoor plays in the housing debates in their communities. While the specifics vary with each city, it is clear Nextdoor plays an increasingly important part, sometimes a crucial one, in how housing debates are framed, discussed, fought over, and ultimately decided in local politics, even if only a tiny minority of people actually participates in these conversations. Overall, activists both for and against more housing regard Nextdoor as an increasingly influential and even critical tool in the fight, which conflicts with the platform’s marketing as a friendly, kinder social media. Rather than being the neighborhood bulletin board, Nextdoors around the country are looking more like the local zoning commission hearing.

In a written statement responding to a list of questions, a Nextdoor spokesperson told Motherboard, “Kindness is core to Nextdoor’s purpose: to cultivate a kinder world where everyone has a neighborhood they can rely on. Earning trust from our neighbors is paramount and we want to give neighbors ways to connect and be kind to each other, online and in real life.”

Generally, the participants Motherboard interviewed regard the Nextdoor debates not as an attempt to convince the other side of anything, but as a public performance to sway the lurkers and identify supporters to recruit to their cause through direct messages. Each side suspects the other is bending the community guidelines to their favor and using friendly moderators to ban opponents—despite the volunteer moderators having no such power, a Nextdoor spokesperson says—heightening animosity and suspicion, a dynamic anyone familiar with online message boards will recognize.

To longtime users of Nextdoor, particularly in California and the Bay Area, this dynamic will hardly be news. The housing and homelessness crises have been dominating California Nextdoor groups more or less since the platform’s inception. Conversations around housing and homelessness often begin with videos or photos of homeless people taken from doorbell cameras, which are then used to gain support for the poster’s respective movement. But media coverage of Nextdoor’s importance, even in local news outlets, has been relatively scarce given its impact. For example, in 2018 the Marin Independent Journal ran the most pointed article on the subject under the headline, “Neighbor wars: How Nextdoor is changing the Bay Area housing debate.” The article mentions how a city councilperson won her seat “after frequently weighing in on Nextdoor housing debates.”

As goes California, so goes the rest of the country. And as the housing crisis has metastasized and become a national issue, the contentious politics of housing has infected many Nextdoor groups, which then affect the real politics of meetings and elections, a feedback loop turning decisions about who can build what where increasingly toxic and intractable.

With the West Hills Nextdoor group now a decade old, Roberts says the group has deteriorated into a constant fight about housing. On the December day I spoke with Roberts, he said there were six active threads about six different housing and homelessness issues, and that those threads “generate by far the most commentary.” He believes this is endemic to how Nextdoor works “as a megaphone and an amplifier for people that are against something.”

“There’s so much discussion happening on Nextdoor when it comes to housing policy,” Wells Harrell, an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission and a housing activist in Arlington, Virginia, told Motherboard. “And it’s something that I think is not widely understood by people who aren’t involved precisely because Nextdoor is a neighborhood-only platform.”

The fact that there is so much discussion of housing on Nextdoor is no coincidence. If anything, it’s an inevitability based on the platform’s fundamental design. If one set out to devise a social network specifically for the purpose of debating housing issues and forming a political base rooted in hyperlocal paranoia, it would look an awful lot like Nextdoor.

When Nextdoor went public in 2021, it chose the stock ticker KIND, a literal symbol of how the company views itself in the larger social media landscape. Its website is peppered with the words “neighbor” and “neighborhood,” a reminder that the people you will encounter on Nextdoor are not bots or randos from across the country or even the world, but those you might bump into at the local coffee shop. (In the statement sent to Motherboard, the company spokesperson used the words “kind” or “kinder” nine times, and “neighbor” or “neighborhood” 26 times). Users can only join a neighborhood group after verifying their address either with their phone’s geolocation or having a postcard with a verification code mailed to them. The implication is that, in such an intimate setting, people will treat others with the same respect they might afford someone in person.

GettyImages-1236441917.jpgNextdoor went public in 2021. Credit: Bloomberg / Contributor via Getty

But it is a theory without much evidence to back it. Nextdoor has long been plagued with many of the same issues of racism and harmful disinformation as any other social media platform, and if anything, the hyperlocal nature only raises the tension and stakes because you’re almost certainly arguing with a real person who lives close to you and whose views cannot be as easily dismissed as irrelevant to your own life. In the statement to Motherboard, a Nextdoor spokesperson claimed the company has “led the charge within the social media industry” to combat harmful posts, including via pop-up reminders and notifications if an algorithm detects the post may include racism, COVID misinformation, or disparaging remarks about unhoused people, prompting the user to edit or cancel the post. The spokesperson claimed that “neighbors who encounter the Kindness Reminder” edit or refrain from posting about a third of the time.

The flip side, of course, is that two-thirds of the time people post the garbage anyways. Generally, the Nextdoor super-users interviewed for this story balked at any suggestion the platform is any kinder than other prominent social media sites. “I’m kind of shocked to learn that they market themselves as the friendly social media app,” said David Auth, a 25-year-old student at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh and a local pro-urbanism advocate.

But, because any single post is limited to its own neighborhood group, the scope and scale of those problems are on a different level than social networks built on the concept of virality. And because users are limited to seeing only their own neighborhood group, whatever problems or dynamics neighborhood groups on Nextdoor share are harder to research and document. Nextdoor users know what is going on in their own neighborhood, but not what people are talking about elsewhere.

As a result, the growing importance of Nextdoor to housing politics writ large has largely gone unnoticed, because it is difficult if not impossible for anyone to form a complete picture of the topics of conversation happening on Nextdoor without the company’s cooperation.

Motherboard sent Nextdoor repeated requests for an interview to discuss the role housing politics plays on the platform. First, Nextdoor spokesperson Shannon Toliver asked Motherboard to submit written questions because “folks are still traveling” after the holidays. Motherboard offered to extend its deadline for up to three weeks or until the relevant people were back in the office. The next day, Toliver said, “We aren’t available for an interview this time” and asked Motherboard to send written questions. When Motherboard asked again for an interview, Toliver said, “We are currently in a quiet period, which prohibits us from participating,” referring to, as she put it, “an SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission] enforced period of time before the release of quarterly earnings reports. During quiet periods, we are limited in speaking about the business to ensure compliance.” (“Quiet periods are before public offerings, not earnings releases,” said Adam Pritchard, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School. “It might be a good practice to hold off on disclosures when an earnings release is forthcoming, but I am not aware of any SEC regulation that would require it.”)

Despite its reticence, it is clear the company recognizes, to some degree, that housing is a major and controversial topic of conversation on the platform, often in ways that violate its rules and guidelines for neighborly behavior. For example, users who post about homelessness now get a pop-up message that asks, “Posting about homelessness? Check out these resources for how to help unhoused neighbors. Public shaming has no place on Nextdoor—remember to be respectful.” The notification links to the general community guidelines as well as a homelessness-specific page with book and movie recommendations such as Evicted, Nomadland, and Righteous Dopefiend. Nextdoor explicitly permits discussion of local political issues, causes, and ways to become more involved in local politics, putting platform discussions on the thinnest of lines; people are urged to care about local politics but not in a way that creates hostility or nastiness.

But it is precisely the way Nextdoor is designed that makes it such a hotbed for housing arguments. The group of people potentially affected or interested due to where they live are automatically sorted into ready-made buckets.

“On Nextdoor, you're not choosing anything at all,” said Auth. “The only thing you can choose, really, is whether to go on the app or not. And so I think that might be what makes me argue more on Nextdoor. I'm seeing more opinions that I disagree with than on other social medias.”

None of the activists Motherboard spoke to for this story think Nextdoor is doing anything wrong, necessarily, even if the end result is a vibe that often feels very different from the one the company promotes.

“This is just how people are,” Harrell said. “If there is a deep disagreement, at least, by some members of the community, Nextdoor can’t really suppress that disagreement.”

When Anne Bodine, a retired diplomat for the State Department, returned to Arlington County, Virginia, a DC suburb, in 2010, Northern Virginia didn’t feel the same to her. “Every time I came back, it was like, I don’t know, I don’t recognize this part of town anymore, almost,” Bodine said in a recent interview with Motherboard.

In October 2019, Bodine went to a debate-style lecture about Arlington’s housing needs to learn more about why some parts of town felt so built up in her absence. There was someone advocating for the construction of more “missing middle” housing, referring to smaller multi-family buildings like duplexes or fourplexes intended for middle income people, which were popular pre-war but largely outlawed with the proliferation of single-family zoning requirements. And there was someone speaking on behalf of preserving single-family zoning. Bodine had never heard of “missing middle” housing before, but became  convinced it wasn’t right for most of Arlington County.

Shortly afterwards, Bodine joined the leadership team of Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future (ASF), a group that wants to “put livable communities ahead of population growth,” opposes the missing middle housing plan, and regularly writes to elected officials and county boards with its own analyses.  She tried to get the group’s message out through many channels, including looking up the listservs of neighborhood associations in the county and various chat groups. But she found many of those were “on the way out, or they’re kind of dead. Nextdoor was more active.”

Bodine doesn’t dispute that enacting the missing middle plan would create more housing, but she says there is a “heated” debate about whether it will create affordable housing for various income levels. “You know, it's just like any policy debate. Both sides have their talking points. And, you know, those are fleshed out on the forum.”

GettyImages-1241939417.jpgPro-housing activists at an Arlington County board meeting where the Nextdoor debates are especially heated. Credit: STEFANI REYNOLDS / Contributor

It’s difficult to generalize about the impact zoning changes have on housing, said Yonah Freemark, research director of the Land Use Lab at the Urban Institute, because there are many different types of zoning changes, each type can be done at different scales, and the specifics of where those changes are being made will have an impact on what the changes accomplish.

“What we do know,” Freemark said, “is that if there’s more housing available, in general, housing prices go down. However, more housing available does not automatically result from changing zoning policies.” Freemark said zoning reforms that are bigger in scale will have a larger impact than more moderate ones. Also, changes in cities with vibrant real estate markets will have bigger impacts than ones in less active markets. And he said there’s “relatively strong evidence” zoning reforms that make more types of buildings permissible, such as missing middle, tend to increase land values.

As a former diplomat who worked in Iraq and Afghanistan in the mid-2000s, Bodine doesn’t believe arguing online is productive behavior. She considers her role to inform her neighbors on Nextdoor of “the facts” behind the county’s plan, which she believes will result in more people ultimately agreeing with her than not. She will post links or notices about various local government meetings and encourage people to speak at them. She also regularly links to ASF’s own analyses. And she will direct message people who repeatedly express their opposition to missing middle housing, asking them to testify at an upcoming local government meeting.

Bodine’s posts on housing tend to get a lot of engagement. For instance, when I spoke to Bodine in early January, she said a post from two weeks prior was “still going strong” with hundreds of comments.

Bodine’s recruiting method is hardly unique, or specific to opponents of new housing. Allison Grady, a 32-year-old working for a public health communications consulting firm, got involved in housing issues while living in Oakland, California. She and her partner had to live with two roommates because they couldn’t afford a one-bedroom apartment. When she moved back to Atlanta in 2021, she told Motherboard, she started thinking about “how do we help Atlanta make the decisions right now that it needs to make so that it doesn’t become Oakland in 5, 10, 15 years, where people do get priced out?”

One of Grady’s main strategies for gaining support for zoning reforms in Atlanta is to look at Nextdoor posts with lots of engagement and direct message people who support more housing. She will ask them to join the YIMBY (yes in my backyard) movement, invite people to events, and fill out official government surveys that inform decisionmaking. Recently, Grady said, she reached out to 45 people from one comment thread, initiated 10 conversations, and received 10 donations to her organization, Atlanta Metro’s branch of YIMBY Action.

“I think of Nextdoor as a real important opportunity,” Grady said. Nextdoor is a way to identify supporters and bring them into her orbit, while other social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are for communicating with people already with you.

One thing Grady does not do, or encourage her other volunteers to do, is argue with NIMBYs. Grady wants them to engage in comments in a “value-centric kind of way” such as expressing a desire to have more neighbors rather than confront other commenters on their views. “The important thing for us is to demonstrate to others watching the conversation that this person who has this negative perception is not how all of us feel, and to invite those folks who agree with us into our orbit,” she said.

This was a key tension among nearly everyone I spoke to for this story. Almost to a person, they acknowledged the futility of arguing with people online, especially about housing, and in particular people who disagree with them about housing priorities in their neighborhoods. But, Grady was the only one who didn’t admit to still doing it.

Auth, the student in Pittsburgh, said he’s “not really sure” why he comments on his local Nextdoor. He recalled a recent thread where he commented “20-plus times and wasted a lot of my time, to be honest.” These arguments can go on for days or weeks.  But he hopes someone who was reading became better informed based on the argument.

In fact, many other frequent Nextdoor commenters I spoke to acknowledged and even embraced the performance aspect of their Nextdoor commenting. Back in Arlington, Harrell, the FTC attorney, was first motivated by the housing issue when a local bank was being converted into 27 townhomes. The development was a 10-minute walk from a Metro station and the bank would be relocated. To him, it seemed like a perfect place for more homes and “these are 27 families who can live here, if only we let their homes get built.” He was stunned to learn many of his neighbors didn’t agree.

When the pandemic began, Harrell found himself spending more time on Nextdoor, particularly to combat what he described as rampant COVID misinformation about masking and social distancing. But then he started arguing about housing, too, hoping to “inform a kind of broader community conversation” so people watching “from the sidelines” might say “Oh, yeah, I guess I hadn’t thought of that.”

The debates on Nextdoor in Arlington have been particularly intense over the past year, both Harrell and Bodine say, because the missing middle rezoning proposal came out in April and has been going through the county review process. For his part, Harrell suspects he’s posted hundreds of comments in the last year on the missing middle issue alone. Bodine accused the moderators of her neighborhood forum of being biased in favor of missing middle and inappropriately suspending some of the people who agree with her. For his part, Harrell provided Motherboard screenshots of posts that show another user looked up his address and viewed his house either in person or on Google Street View, then described some features of his house on Nextdoor. (A Nextdoor spokesperson says the platform relies on “230,000+ local volunteer moderators” to review content flagged as “uncivil or disrespectful” but cannot suspend or ban users, which must be done by Nextdoor’s “in-house Operations team.”)

This incident caused Harrell to re-evaluate how frequently he posts on Nextdoor. Lately, he’s gotten the sense that it’s become “a cage match with all the same fighters who show up all the time. And don’t leave.”

Harrell is not alone in that view. In many neighborhood groups, these commenters, despite dominating the conversation, are such a small number of people that they all know each other. Bodine claims to know them so well that she recognizes them in other comment sections, such as on local news articles, even when they don’t use their real names. They are a community within a community, drawn together by a common issue, seemingly destined to spend their days debating minor details of arcane zoning laws, with the belief the future of their neighborhood is at stake, even though professional researchers are unsure the changes will make much of a difference.

Back in Bend, Roberts, the retired golf professional, expresses dismay over what his local Nextdoor has become. Not just because he disagrees with the politics that dominate the group—he estimates people commenting on it are against new developments by at least three to one—but because it provides a false sense of majority opinion that emboldens what is, in reality, a minority in Bend.

In the recent city council election, voters chose the slate of candidates favoring denser, multi-family housing over the ones vowing to preserve single family zoning. Roberts sees his local Nextdoor group as no different than the city council hearing or environmental review feedback process, dominated by the people with the time, energy, and inclination to complain about things they don’t like, but unrepresentative of the views most Bend residents have.

Silverman, the land use chair for the Bend neighborhood association, doesn’t see it that way. “Nextdoor enables me to listen to what other people are saying about housing issues,” Silverman wrote in an email, “and to stay up to speed on broader community concerns and current attitudes.”

As for bias in the group’s moderation, Silverman has no need to be worried. Roberts says his wife, who created the group a decade ago, no longer uses Nextdoor. She’s sick of it. But for Roberts? He will still be in the comments section, waiting, “acting as a firewall,” as he put it, against ignorant opinions. Politely, of course.

Categories: Tech News

Perfectly Good MacBooks From 2021 Are Being Sold for Scrap Because of Activation Lock

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 06:00

Secondhand MacBooks that retailed for as much as $3,000 are being sold for $13 in scrap because recyclers have no way to login and factory reset the machines, which are often just a couple years old.

“How many of you out there would like a 2-year-old M1 MacBook? Well, too bad, because your local recycler just took out all the Activation Locked logic boards and ground them into carcinogenic dust,” John Bumstead, a MacBook refurbisher and owner of the RDKL INC repair store, said in a recent tweet.

The problem is Apple’s T2 security chip. First introduced in 2018, the laptop makes it impossible for anyone who isn’t the original owner to log into the machine. It’s a boon for security and privacy and a plague on the second hard market. “Like it has been for years with recyclers and millions of iPhones and iPads, it’s pretty much game over with MacBooks now—there’s just nothing to do about it if a device is locked,” Bumstead told Motherboard. “Even the jailbreakers/bypassers don’t have a solution, and they probably won’t because Apple proprietary chips are so relatively formidable.”

Responsible recyclers and refurbishers wipe the data from used devices before selling them on. In these cases, the data is wiped, but cannot be assigned to a new user, making them effectively worthless. Instead of finding these machines a second home, Bumstead and others are dismantling them and selling the parts. These computers often end up at recycling centers after corporations go out of business or buy all new machines.

Bumstead told Motherboard that every year Apple makes life a little harder for the second hand market. “The progression has been, first you had certifications with unrealistic data destruction requirements, and that caused recyclers to pull drives from machines and sell without drives, but then as of 2016 the drives were embedded in the boards, so they started pulling boards instead,” he said. “And now the boards are locked, so they are essentially worthless. You can’t even boot locked 2018+ MacBooks to an external device because by default the MacBook security app disables external booting.”

Motherboard first reported on this problem in 2020, but Bumstead said it’s gotten worse recently. “Now we're seeing quantity come through because companies with internal 3-year product cycles are starting to dump their 2018/2019s, and inevitably a lot of those are locked,” he said.

Often the previous owners are corporations or schools who buy and sell the machines in bulk and aren't interested in helping recyclers or refurbishers unlock them. "Previous owners do not return phone calls, and large corporations that dump 3000 machines assume they have been destroyed, so it is critical we have a solution that does not depend on the previous owner approving,” Bumstead said. “And after all, we have property rights, so the original owner is not the current owner and does not technically have a right to condemn to death what is no longer their property."

Bumstead offered some solutions to the problem. “When we come upon a locked machine that was legally acquired, we should be able to log into our Apple account, enter the serial and any given information, then click a button and submit the machine to Apple for unlocking,” he said. “Then Apple could explore its records, query the original owner if it wants, but then at the end of the day if there are no red flags and the original owner does not protest within 30 days, the device should be auto-unlocked."

Apple has long fought the secondary market and independent repair shops. After years of selling people expensive repair plans and fighting the right to repair, the company has begun to relent. In 2021, it announced it would begin telling people how to fix their own phones and selling them the parts to do so. But the mountains of perfectly useable but permanently locked MacBooks at repair stores around the world are a testament to just how far Apple still has to go.

Apple did not immediately return Motherboard’s request for comment.

Categories: Tech News

Here’s How Art Schools Are Dealing With The Rise of AI Generators

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 06:00

To prepare for the 2023 spring semester, New York University professor Winnie Song did something she’s never had to do before: she created AI art guidelines for her students.

Song, an assistant arts professor in the Game Center at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, is not the only art instructor thinking about this. With the rapid rise of automated systems like Stable Diffusion, Midjourney, and DALL-E 2 within the past year, instructors at post-secondary art institutions are trying to figure out how to broach the topic with their students while still learning the intricacies of AI art themselves. 

“My worry was that they would use the AI generators to come up with mood boards and references of things that don’t exist in real life. So I just set a policy where, within the bounds of this class, it’s discouraged to use the generators,” Song told Motherboard. “I really didn’t ever imagine that it would get to this point where people would be, like, trying to legitimize it as a craft.”

AI-generated art has flooded the internet since users began generating elaborate images with just a written phrase or highly stylized portraits by uploading a selfie. The tools have been met with fierce backlash from many artists, who note that the AI systems produce derivative images after ingesting millions of original artworks without permission from their creators. 

But while the growing sophistication of AI generators is raising profound questions about the nature of art and the creative process, it is also creating very tangible dilemmas for art educators who want their students to develop skills that go beyond typing a phrase into a text prompt and turning it in as their own work.

“I think we endeavor to teach them to become independent of tools and also make sure that they remain sort of agnostic, not reverent and dependent on one thing to get presentable work,” Song said. “You can learn this, and you can think about it, but that can’t be your one main thing to get to where you need to be.”

The ways professors have been introducing AI art in the classroom varies between classes and disciplines. Song said she’s teaching a drawing class in which students are supposed to derive inspiration from nature and the physical world, hence her AI art policy. On the other hand, Kurt Ralske, a digital media professor and department chair of media arts at Tufts University’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts, is taking a different approach. 

“Personally, I’ve been encouraging students to explore this. I think they should know what the tools are, what they’re capable of and maybe develop a personal vocabulary of how to use them,” Ralske told Motherboard. “But we really are overdue for actually maybe having a larger discussion within the university of how we should handle these things.”

Doug Rosman, a lecturer in the Art and Technology Studies department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, is also having students explore the generators in his machine learning class. But, in his professional practice class, a more career-focused course, AI art and its impact on working artists is a different discussion.

“In that context, the outputs of DALL-E and Stable Diffusion feel more threatening,” Rosman told Motherboard. 

Instructors aren’t the only ones thinking about the products of AI art generators. Art students are also dealing with the effects of AI art saturating the market for artists and what that could mean for their careers.

“The way that artists are embracing crazy capitalist, hyper-technology culture is just really disheartening,” said Marla Chinbat, an art student at the University of Illinois-Chicago. “I wouldn’t be surprised if AI art actually begins to hold merit because of a side of the art world that I don’t align myself with.”

None of the instructors or students at the institutions interviewed by Motherboard said their department or school had issued AI art guidelines or a policy for using AI art generators for projects. Charlotte Belland, a professor and chair of the animation program at the Columbus College of Art & Design, said setting parameters is left to individual instructors depending on the topics and concepts being taught in class.

“As long as they establish what their parameters are, then that’s an open forum to be able to either use or not use AI technology,” Belland told Motherboard.

However, learning how these programs work and how to help students use them takes time and effort on behalf of the instructor. If an instructor is not already familiar with machine learning or computer science, navigating the ways AI-art generators are shaking up the art world and understanding the algorithms could take extra work. 

“Teaching is hard. It’s so much work and it’s not well compensated,” Rosman said. “It’s not fair that a small demographic of people in Silicon Valley can just throw this thing out into the world, and we’ve got to just run around picking up the pieces.”

A young woman in a white and black striped shirt sits in front of painted canvassesSusan Behreds Valenzuela, an art student at NYU Steinhardt. Photo courtesy of the artist

Even if their instructors have not brought up AI art in classes, students are still thinking about how AI art generators are affecting the art world. Susan Behreds Valenzuela, an art student at NYU Steinhardt, said the subject has only come up once in just one of her classes, but would be interested in further discussions in other classes.

“I do wish we had talked about it a little bit more,” she told Motherboard. “But at the same time, I think in order for that to happen, my professors would need to kind of know a little bit more about that type of technology, and I just think it’s not something they’re really focused on.”

Students are also thinking about how they could use these tools as part of their processes. Rhode Island School of Design painting student Julia Hames said they played around with AI generator Wombo for inspiration.

“For a while, I didn’t have any ideas of what to paint, so I’d just put in random prompts into Wombo to see what it created,” Hames told Motherboard. “I didn’t really like anything, but maybe it could be used for that because the images are so absurd and it just lets you into this uncanny valley that honestly humans can’t even get to sometimes.” 

A person with bleached blonde and orange hair standing in front of painted canvasses hung on a wallJulia Hames, a painting student at Rhode Island School of Design. Photo courtesy of the artist

Song, Ralske, Rosman, and Belland all said they have not had students use AI-art generators for projects without their knowledge. If a student did use AI for a project, the way they used it was clear to the instructor. Belland said that if a student did try to use AI without consent from an instructor, being in a community with diverse perspectives and skills would help catch it.

“The nice thing about an educational community is you have so many eyes on a project,” she said. “Even when a student makes an unfortunate decision to copy something in just a very traditional method, plagiarism, it’s pretty easy to spot.”

As for Song, she is also not too concerned with her students passing off AI-generated images as their own because she is already familiar with their work. She’s more worried about the students she hasn’t even had in class yet.

“In admissions, these new students are coming in from high school, from another life that we don’t know,” she said. “I think it could be possible for them to have created a portfolio out of thin air overnight using these generators, depending on how good they become.”

Categories: Tech News

The world is 'clearly' not prepared for cyberwarfare

The Register - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 05:20
6,000 netizens can't be wrong

One-third of IT and security professionals globally say they are either indifferent or unconcerned about the impact of cyberwarfare on their organizations as a whole, according to a survey of more than 6,000 across 14 countries.…

Categories: Tech News

Lucy asteroid probe forced to limp on without full solar array

The Register - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 04:35
Attempts to fix glitch ditched – but never give up, never surrender

NASA's Lucy spacecraft will have to soldier on to reach eight asteroids within Jupiter's orbit – a journey expected to last 12 years – with a glitch in one of its solar arrays for now.…

Categories: Tech News

The Polestar 2 gets new electric motors in mid-life refresh

ARS Technica - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 04:00
A Polestar 2 next to a wall

Enlarge / Polestar has given the Polestar 2 a new nose treatment for model-year 2024. (credit: Polestar)

The current electric vehicle renaissance has been properly underway for a few years now, and we've reached the point where the first of those EVs is now undergoing a mid-life refresh. Later this year, the revised Polestar 2 will go into production, featuring more standard equipment, a new nose, and all-new electric motors.

"Typically in the car industry, a facelift introduces superficial visual changes that often destroy the original intention of the car’s design theme. With the new model-year Polestar 2, we rather went below the surface and upgraded substantial tech and mechanical components of the electric drivetrain," said Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath.

The biggest changes are reserved for the single-motor Polestar 2. This will now come with an 82 kWh battery pack, compared to the 78 kWh packs in the dual motor cars, and should be sufficient for up to 300 miles (483 km) on a single charge, although Polestar is still waiting on its official EPA range estimate.

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Categories: Tech News

EU infrastructure risk project to address potential climate, 'resource' shortage catastrophes

The Register - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 03:47
Atos-led group to protect European infrastructure from impact of future pandemics – using Horizon cash

Atos is leading the Sunrise project that aims to develop measures to protect vital European infrastructure against the impact of incidents with catastrophic consequences, including future pandemics, climate change or resource scarcity.…

Categories: Tech News

Live Nation CFO on Taylor Swift ticket chaos: Don't blame me, bots made me crazy

The Register - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 02:29
Attack was three times the size of anything company had seen – they couldn't shake it off

Live Nation Entertainment's CFO is expected to testify that the breakdown of its Ticketmaster website at the release of Taylor Swift concert tickets last November was caused by a deluge of bots.…

Categories: Tech News

How the Sinaloa Cartel Corrupts Mexican Cops and Operates With Impunity

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 02:00

Sergio Villarreal Barragán had only been working as a police officer in Mexico for a few years when he learned who really called the shots in his country. It was 1992 and he was in charge of a highway checkpoint near Ciudad Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas where he was tasked with searching vehicles for drugs, guns, and other contraband. One day, an SUV pulled up full of people wearing uniforms just like his—except these weren’t fellow cops.

The men were heavily armed. One stepped forward to identify himself as Amado Carrillo Fuentes, a feared drug cartel leader known as “The Lord of the Skies” because he owned a fleet of airplanes used for smuggling cocaine from South America. 

“They pointed their guns at us and then Amado introduced himself to us and said: ‘Either you align ourselves with us or you get out of here,’” Villarreal Barragán said during testimony he delivered Monday at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, during the trial of the highest-ranking Mexican law enforcement official to ever face prosecution in the United States.

It was an offer Villarreal Barragán could not refuse. He continued working as a police officer for several more years, but his real bosses became The Lord of the Skies and his partners in the Sinaloa Cartel, including the infamous Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. Eventually, Villarreal Barragán quit the police and joined the cartel full time, serving as a top lieutenant for El Chapo’s cousin, Arturo Beltrán Leyva, who led a cartel faction called the Beltrán Leyva Organization.

CP16941703.jpgFILE- In this Oct. 8, 2010 file photo, then Mexico's Secretary of Public Safety Genaro Garcia Luna attends a press conference on the sidelines of an American Police Community (Ameripol) meeting in Mexico City. Photo via CP.

Standing nearly 6’7” and nicknamed “El Grande” because of his towering stature, Villarreal Barragán was the first witness called to testify against Genaro García Luna, a former cabinet-level official under ex-president Felipe Calderón who oversaw the country’s entire federal police force and prison system. For more than a decade, until he and Calderón left office in 2012, García Luna was a trusted ally of the DEA and other U.S. law enforcement agencies. But according to El Grande, García Luna answered to the cartel just like everyone else.

Over the course of several hours on the witness stand, El Grande, who was extradited to the U.S. in 2012 and was reportedly released in 2019 after striking a plea deal, testified about rampant corruption at every level of Mexican law enforcement, from the top down. Villarreal Barragán claimed he was present on multiple occasions when García Luna took millions of dollars worth of bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel. The massive payoffs, he said, were pooled by Beltrán Leyva, El Chapo, and other cartel leaders and delivered to García Luna to ensure drugs kept flowing unchecked through Mexico. The cartel, he said, was pleased with the deal.

“It was the best investment they had of their money,” El Grande said. “We had absolutely no problems.” 

Villarreal Barragán’s testimony offered a rare window into the ways the Sinaloa Cartel recruits and corrupts Mexican police officials, including those at the very top of the food chain. While publicly serving as the face of Mexico’s militarized war against the cartels under Calderón, García Luna was allegedly deep in the pocket of the Beltrán Leyva Organization.

In many ways, Villarreal Barragán and García Luna are cut from the same cloth. Apart from a substantial difference in height, the two men look like they could be brothers. Both have silver hair buzzed into flat tops, furrowed brows, and the stern demeanor of ex-cops. While García Luna trained as an engineer before joining the Mexican equivalent of the CIA, Villarreal Barragán attended two years of law school before dropping out to become a police officer.

As García Luna climbed the ranks to earn the post as his country’s top law enforcement official, Villarreal Barragán became a trusted operator for the Beltrán Leyva Organization whose job, in his own words, was to oversee “the growth and expansion of the cartel and to eliminate enemies of the cartel.” 

“There are two types of corruption in government,” Villarreal Barragán explained. “One is when you pay an officer to look the other way to let something through. And the other type is when they take part in the activities of the organization.” 

Garcia Luna, El Grande told the jury, was the second type. 

“He was of great help,” Villarreal Barragán testified about García Luna. “He would give us information about operations against the cartel. He helped us put in and take out agents in every part of Mexico and he shared information so we could hit our rivals.” 

Villarreal Barragán was eventually arrested in 2010. He previously testified in the U.S. against another former Mexican federal police officer, Iván Reyes Arzate, who was identified Monday as one of several senior officers who served under García Luna in the Mexican federal police while taking bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel. (Reyes Arzate, who had access to sensitive DEA intelligence, has twice pleaded guilty to U.S. federal indictments, and is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence.)

El Grande said that García Luna and his associates would leak useful information to the cartel, including tips about drug shipments by rival groups. On one occasion, he testified, they intercepted two tons of cocaine that belonged to the Gulf Cartel and La Familia, two enemies of the Sinaloa Cartel. The stolen load was taken to a warehouse, he said, where García Luna showed up along with two of his top deputies. The corrupt cops allegedly had a deal that entitled them to half the value of any drug shipment taken from an opposing cartel thanks to their information. In this case, he recalled, the payout to García Luna was around $14-16 million.

“It was a good amount,” El Grande said. The money was handed over in cardboard “office boxes” full of $20 bills, he recalled, and there were so many they wouldn’t fit in the SUV that the cops had driven to the warehouse, so the cartel lent them a Suburban to haul the cash away. 

Villarreal Barragán offered other specific examples of bribes delivered by the Beltrán Leyva Organization to García Luna. Once, he claimed, his boss arranged to have “a special edition Harley Davidson motorcycle” purchased in Mexico City and delivered to García Luna. 

Arturo Beltrán Leyva, who ran the cartel with his brothers Hector and Alfredo, would often let El Grande eavesdrop on conversations with García Luna, El Grande claimed. After the Harley was delivered, he was struck by the way the federal police official and cartel boss spoke to each other and “how familiar the tone was… as if they were friends.”

El Grande claimed he could hear García Luna talking to the Beltrán Leyva leader and “thanking him for his thoughtfulness, it was really nice.” He could tell it was García Lune, he added, because he repeatedly stumbled over his words. Behind García Luna’s back, Villarreal Barragán testified, the cartel bosses nicknamed him Tartamudo or The Stutterer. 

Starting around 2001, when García Luna led the Mexican equivalent of the FBI, El Grande said the Sinaloa Cartel would deliver him monthly payments of $1-1.5 million. Villarreal Barragán said he personally observed around 20 of these payoffs, which typically occurred at a cartel safe house in the southern part of Mexico City, near a shopping mall called Perisur. The money was handed over in black duffel bags called “chorizos,” he said, which were stuffed with stacks of $100 bills packed into bundles of $10,000 each.

“Normally they’d put the bag on the table, open the zipper, show the contents, and close it again,” El Grande said, adding: “The payments increased in amount as the cartel grew because the volume of drugs and growth was greater. That meant the profits were also greater.” 

Villarreal Barragán also described the lavish lifestyle that Arturo Beltrán Leyva enjoyed as a cocaine kingpin who was allowed to operate with impunity. Known as El Barbas (The Beard) or The Boss of Bosses, he owned a black panther and a white tiger as pets. His fleet of cars included a Rolls-Royce, a Ferrari, and a Lamborghini. The Beltrán Leyva leader, he said, owned “top luxury” properties and dressed “very flashy… similar to what rap artists wear,” with “flashy clothes, a lot of jewelry made by exclusive designers.”

By contrast, prosecutors seem to have little evidence that proves García Luna was living large off the millions of dollars in cartel bribes he allegedly accepted. In a pretrial ruling handed down last week, the presiding judge blocked prosecutors from presenting evidence of García Luna wealth after he left the Mexican government in 2012, saying they had failed to present any proof it was “financed with cartel money.”

In his opening statement to the jury on Monday, García Luna’s lead defense attorney, Cesar de Castro, made a point of calling out the lack of hard evidence linking his client to corruption.

“No money. No photos. No videos. No emails. No records. No documents. No credible, believable, plausible evidence Mr. García Luna helped the cartels,” de Castro said. “This case is really about the government’s lack of any objective evidence.” 

What the government does have, however, is cooperating witnesses like El Grande. The judge’s ruling last week revealed the names of several other potential witnesses for the prosecution, including another top Beltrán Leyva lieutenant named Edgar Valdez Villarreal aka La Barbie for his blonde hair and handsome face. La Barbie was also one of several cartel associates name-checked by Villarreal Barragán, along with the brother of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, who previously testified in late 2018 during El Chapo’s trial about personally delivering a multi-million dollar bribe to García Luna.

De Castro told the jury Monday that the cooperator testimony would consist of “rumors, speculation, and the words of some of the biggest criminals in the world, many arrested and extradited by Mr. García Luna.” 

De Castro showed the jury pictures of García Luna interacting with a who’s who of senior U.S. officials from the early 2000s, including former President Barack Obama and his then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a previous head of the DEA, and Republican members of Congress, including Sen. Lindsey Graham.

The defense attorney suggested that the cartel members, who have cut deals with the government in exchange for reduced sentences, were out for revenge against García Luna because was the one responsible for their downfalls. The cartels “want to get the last laugh,” de Castro said, “and they want your help doing it.” 

On the government side, federal prosecutor Philip Pilmar told the jury in his opening statement that ​​García Luna was “a man who betrayed both his country and ours.” 

“While entrusted to work for the Mexican people, he had another job—a dirtier job, a more lucrative job.” Pilmar said. “He took millions of dollars in cash bribes to enable the biggest drug cartel in Mexico to send tons—literal tons—of cocaine to the United States.” 

García Luna faces life in prison if convicted, and Pilmar made it clear that the case will hinge on the testimony of other cooperating witnesses like El Grande.

“Witness after witness after witness will testify they and their bosses paid the defendant,” Pilmar said, describing how Mexican federal police officers were involved in unloading shipments of cocaine for the Sinaloa Cartel at Mexico City’s airport. With García Luna giving the orders, Pilmar said, “the person charged with going after the cartel was actually its most valued asset.”

Categories: Tech News

Seattle: Home of grunge, Starbucks… and now, a quantum computer manufacturing plant

The Register - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 01:30
Unclear where IonQ’s funding for its $1 billion investment plans will come from

IonQ plans to open a quantum computer manufacturing plant - the first on US soil it claims - as part of broader plans to invest $1 billion into an expansion in the Pacific Northwest region over the next decade.…

Categories: Tech News